Last Updated on September 26, 2020 by Zac Phua
Many guides show you how to start an affiliate marketing business, while most of them are just telling you the surface stuff.
Very few people know what’s the next step they should take even after reading all the other guides.
In today’s article, I will show you the nitty-gritty of affiliate marketing and share the strategies you could utilize to build your affiliate marketing business and scale it like a business.
This guide covered everything you need to know from picking a profitable niche that you passionate about and scale your affiliate marketing business to the next level.
Before we delve into that, let’s cover some of the basics first.
Affiliate Disclaimer: This article includes my affiliate links, which may provide a small commission to me if you purchase through those links (at no extra cost to you!). I recommend them to you because they’re companies that I’ve found helpful and trustworthy. You can read my full affiliate disclaimer here.
What Is Affiliate Marketing & How Does It Work?
Affiliate marketing is a business model where the affiliate will promote the merchant’s product/service and get paid for a commission from every sale.
In other words, affiliate marketers are bridging the gap between the merchant with potential buyers.
Source: Wealthy Affiliate
The merchant will give their affiliates a unique link with their affiliate id to track who is responsible for the sale. The link will usually look something like this:
When someone clicks on the link, they will be directed to the merchant site, and a small file known as a cookie is stored on their browser. If they make a purchase, the affiliate will be rewarded.
If they don’t buy instantly, the cookie, which holds an expiration date, will keep the credit to the affiliate as long as the customer purchases within a specific timeframe (typically 30-90 days).
Mindset You Should Have When Building Your Affiliate Marketing Business
1) You Don’t Need To Be A Marketing Expert
Every expert was once a newbie.
Each time you see a success story, it seems like they just got lucky, or they have got the talent. But what most people don’t know is the countless failures the person has been through to get to the point where they are now.
Each failure gives them a valuable learning experience that transforms them into the so-called “expert”.
So when you feel like you want to start affiliate marketing, but you are scare of failures just because you are a complete newbie who knows nothing about internet marketing, you need to get rid of the restricted mindset and just get started.
Just like Zig Ziglar once said:
You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.Zig Ziglar
2) You Don’t Have To Own A Huge Following
By implementing the right search engine optimization (SEO) strategy, you can get consistent web traffic from the search engines over time, and they are the primary audiences you would like to serve.
That means you don’t need a huge following to get started even though that could give you more advantages, but it’s not the most important success factor.
3) Set Your Expectation Right
Most beginners have the wrong expectations when they get into affiliate marketing.
The truth is, there’s no such thing as a get-rich-quick scheme. It’s a BS myth, and I wonder why there are still got people reckoning affiliate marketing is the most profitable business and trying to make some quick bucks!
If you expect to read some e-book, watch some YouTube videos and then start making $1,000 per month as a complete newbie. You can stop reading now.
Anytime I start a website, I do not expect it to make any money at all for at least 3~6 months (the foundation period).
I expect the sites to slowly increase from there until I start making some decent money around the 1 to 2-year mark.
This may seem like a long time. But hey, if you are willing to spend 16 years in education just to get that $3000/month corporate job after graduated, but you aren’t willing to sacrifice for 1 to 2 years in exchange for the lifelong rewards, that doesn’t make any sense!
Why Should You Start Affiliate Marketing?
1) Minimal Startup Cost
Affiliate marketing is a great business opportunity for people who have no much startup capital because it takes little to no money to get started. That’s the beauty of affiliate marketing.
Most affiliate programs and networks are free to join, and it’s also possible to set up an affiliate website for FREE. I’ll how you can do it in a second.
Besides, if you don’t want to advertise your affiliate product with paid ads, you don’t need to. You can leverage search engine optimization (SEO) to drive free traffic to your site.
Although it takes time and effort to build up substantial organic traffic to your site, I promise the results you get are worthwhile.
2) Easy To Operate
As an affiliate, you don’t need to create any product. All you need to do is providing the potential buyers the information they need and then link them to the merchant’s site.
The payment process only happens between the merchant and customers without your direct involvement. So you don’t have to worry about ANY customer service/product fulfillment/refunds/queries. It’s the vendor’s responsibilities.
3) No Face To Face Selling
To be honest, I am a shy and introverted person who isn’t good at making new friends. I will be very uncomfortable around a group of people I don’t know. That’s why I often avoid such social activities as I possibly could.
If you are anything like me, jobs that required face-to-face selling might be your fatal weakness.
But with affiliate marketing, it doesn’t require you to do any face-to-face selling. You don’t need to go out frequently to meet someone else and force yourself to sell them something.
4) Great Way To Build Passive Income Stream
Promoting affiliate product that provides recurring commission is a great way to build a passive income source. As long as your referrals keep using the product, you will get paid regularly.
To increase customer retention, the product that you promote must be trustworthy and useful for them.
Once your affiliate marketing business reaches a point that making a good amount of money, you can reinvest the money into hiring VAs to take care of the routine tasks.
This way, you can have more time scaling your business or building the next affiliate marketing site to build a second income source.
How To Start An Affiliate Marketing Business Step-By-Step
I have broken the entire process into 3 major phases, with a step-by-step guide for each of them. I believe following this guide will steer you on the right path and shorten your learning curve.
Phase 1 ➜ Laying The Foundation
Step 1.1: Pick A Profitable Niche That You Know
Most affiliate marketing tips out there will advise you to choose a niche you are passionate about, so you will have a better idea of what content to create that meets your target market’s needs.
Well, that’s a good advice, but there’s one problem with it. It doesn’t take profitability into account.
I learned this from Adam Enfroy, a digital marketing expert who has over 500,000 active blog readers. He claimed that most affiliate marketers fail not because they aren’t passionate enough, but their business is not profitable. It applied to all business models.
Think about this.
Imagine you have chosen a niche that you genuinely love, and you have created amazing content for a year but still haven’t made any life-changing income that allows you to quit your corporate job. How would you feel?
For me, I would 100% burn out, and I believe most people do.
If you want to make money in affiliate marketing, you need to transition from a content creator to a business owner.
You need to think about monetization while filling your target market’s needs with amazing content from day one. Because in the end, passion doesn’t create money. Money creates passion.
To choose a profitable niche, just ask yourself this simple question:
How much are your targeted audiences willing to spend?
Targeting audiences like stay-at-home moms, college students, and broke 9~5 employees might be a bad idea if you want to have a higher conversion rate.
According to Adam, niches that could be integrated with B2B components are also very lucrative because you just shifted your audience from individuals to businesses.
Businesses are willing to invest more money if they found your recommended affiliate products can bring them positive ROI.
I hope all this makes sense to you.
In my opinion, the most profitable niches right now for newbies are encompassed:
- Internet Marketing
After choosing the right niche, it also helps if you are willing to spend an hour or two researching your exact customer avatar because it enables you to serve them better by fully understanding their pain points.
Step 1.2: Choosing The Right Affiliate Products
After picking your niche market, the second thing is to look for a suitable affiliate program to offer to the audiences you have been called to serve.
There’re hundreds of thousands of affiliate programs globally, and most of them are free to join.
As there’s so many of them, it’s less likely you can’t find a trusty affiliate program that is a great fit for your audiences.
Pro Tips here: You can look for subscription-oriented digital affiliate products because they often have a higher commission rate than physical products. You can also get a recurring commission as long as your referrals keep using the product. This is a great way to build a passive income stream, as I mentioned earlier.
FYI, here are some of the popular affiliate networks where you could look for excellent affiliate programs:
- CJ Affiliate
- Rakuten Advertising
- Warrior Plus
Step 1.3: Choose A Channel
There’re many ways to do affiliate marketing. However, build a blog or create a YouTube channel are the two channels that could reap the maximum benefits from this business model.
For this article, I will mainly be targeting the former approach because blogging is my forte.
Also, creating high-quality YouTube videos might require you to invest in expensive video editing software, microphone, lighting, and camera. Other than that, you might also need a high-spec laptop/desktop.
If you don’t have much startup budget, blogging might be a better approach as it’s more cost-effective. You only need to make a small investment in your domain name and web hosting.
Besides, you have more control of your blog/website than you do with YouTube. And sometimes affiliate marketing sites can be easily sold up to 40x more than it’s monthly revenue. That means owning a blog, you basically own an online real estate that grows in value over time.
Rest assured, building a website isn’t as complicated or labor-intensive as it was in the past. You will not require any coding/programming knowledge to set up your site.
If you use SiteRubix (where I hosted my website), you can quickly build a profit-ready WordPress website within minutes.
They will also provide you 2 subdomain websites for completely free in the first 6 months. And I guess that is more than enough time for you to consider if you are serious about your business.
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Phase 2 ➜ Get Your Website Ready For Search Engines
Step 2.1: Setting Up Google Analytics, Google Search Console & Bing Webmaster Tool
Up to this point, you have your website up and running. It’s time to get your site ready for the top 3 search engines – Google, Bing, and Yahoo.
Your primary focus here is driving FREE organic traffic through search engine optimization (SEO). It’s a practice that enables the search engines to find our website easier, get our content indexed quicker, and rank higher.
You need higher rankings so your pages can get better impressions, which could bring you targeted traffic and generate revenue.
With that said, you can use paid promotion to drive traffic to your site, but I don’t recommend if you are completely new to paid marketing and have no hefty marketing budget. Or else, you basically burning your money.
Here’re things you need to do so the search engines can index and rank your site properly.
i) Set-Up Rank Math SEO On Your Site
You already understand that Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a crucial aspect of your website’s success.
Rank Math is by far the best free SEO plugin I have ever used because they have many useful features. Some of them are only included in the premium version of Yoast SEO, another SEO plugin “heavyweight”.
You can go to your WordPress dashboard to install Rank Math, and they will walk you through setting up the plugin with an easy-to-use setup wizard.
FYI, here’s the detailed tutorial showing you how to set up Rank Math completely on your website >> How To Set Up Rank Math?
ii) Install Google Analytics For Your WordPress Site
Google Analytics is a tool provided by Google that allows you to track all the data and statistics regarding your website.
With GA, you will get better insights into useful information like how much time your visitors spend on your site, the channels they come from, devices they use, etc.
That being said, it’s a necessary tool that lets you know how well your website performance is and what optimization you should make on the pages that are performing well.
Here’s a great video showing you how to install Google Analytics step by step.
iii) Add Your Website To Google Search Console
Google Search Console (previously known as Google Webmaster Tool) is another tool developed by Google to track your website performance on the search engine results page (SERP). In other words, it will let you know how well your pages ranked on the search engines.
Some of the things you can do inside Google Search Console include request Google to index your new content asap, check for SEO errors, submit the sitemap to Google so they can index and rank your site properly, etc.
With that in mind, if you are not leveraging this tool while your competitors do, it’s more difficult for you to outrank them.
Here’s a great video guide that teaches you how to add your website to Google Search console.
After adding your site, Google needs to confirm the site ownership. Suppose you have installed Rank Math, you can get verified with just a few simple clicks.
Related Article: Search Console in Rank Math
iv) Add Your Website To Bing Webmaster Tool
Bing Webmaster Tool works similar to Google Search Console but solely for Bing only.
Adding a site to Bing Webmaster Tool is relatively easier because there’s an option that allows you to import your Google Search Console data inside the tool, and you will get verified automatically.
Step 2.2: Mind Mapping Content Ideas
As the title tells, this step is to mind mapping your content ideas related to your niche.
My niche targets people interested in online business/internet marketing, and I specialize in blogging, dropshipping, and affiliate marketing.
Whenever I have a new topic idea, I will add it to my mind map.
I highly recommend you do the same so you will have a better idea of what topics you should get into, and it’s also a great way to strategize your internal links building and enhance your SEO performance.
Step 2.3: Keyword Research
A keyword refers to the search term that people entered in the search engines to find the information they are looking for.
Conducting keyword research and targeting the right keyword is a part of SEO. And it will give you a better advantage than other people who are just randomly posting content.
If you target a keyword that nobody is searching, don’t expect to get high traffic from the search engines. But that doesn’t mean targeting a broad keyword is good because you have to take their competition into account.
To find suitable keywords, you need a tool to make your research easier.
Ubersuggest is my favored keyword research tool, and I use it A LOT. It’s developed by well-known digital marketing guru, Neil Patel, and It provides various helpful features with very low pricing.
The individual plan only costs you $20/month, or you can go for the lifetime offer for just a $120 one-time fee. Other keyword research tools charge 4 to 7 times more than that, and they don’t provide any lifetime plan, only subscription.
In case you don’t want to invest in the paid tool yet, Jaaxy might be a good choice as they provide free 30 keyword research queries daily.
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Step 2.4: Create An SEO- friendly Content
Now you have some potential keywords. It’s time to create SEO-friendly content for each of those keywords.
When creating your content, you must always keep your readers in mind first, but don’t forget to apply the on-page SEO techniques.
Suppose you are using Ubersuggest to find the keywords. In that case, Neil Patel has a very free thorough course that walks you through how to “SEOing” your website for better ranking.
Even if you don’t, I still highly recommend you to take the course, as it’s totally free, so there’s nothing for you to lose.
Your main goal here is to get affiliate sales. Some of the best content types that drive buyer-intent traffic included:
Product unboxing and reviews
This is easy to understand. You review a product that you trust to your audience. Those who found your review helpful will buy through your affiliate links.
This content is like showcasing your experience and knowledge that teaches people how to use a certain product or master a skill.
For example, like this article, you are reading right this second. I am sharing my experience in getting a proper start with affiliate marketing and providing you the right tools and resources to help you succeed faster.
‘Best of’ Content
You introduce your hand-picked products and persuade your audience why they should buy it, how the products could benefit them, and kindly ask them to get the products through your affiliate links.
This is just like the product review, but instead of just reviewing one product, you will be comparing 2 products (or more) and list down each of the products’ pros and cons.
As always, your opinion matters here. You can give your opinion on the products, and suggest your audiences go for the one that would be more beneficial to them.
This way, your “die-hard” fans will take your suggestion and buy the product through your affiliate link if they need it asap.
Phase 3 ➜ Optimize, Automate & Scale
Step 3.1: Backlink Building
A backlink is simply a link from one website to another. You can think of it like a voting system.
If many people found your blog post is valuable, they will share it on social media, and other bloggers might link to your article in their blog posts as well.
All these create backlinks to your post and increase your domain authority, making Google trust you more and give you a better ranking.
As your site grows, it will gain backlinks naturally. Perhaps you want to speed up the process. You can build backlinks by guest blogging on other authority websites in your niche.
By writing content for a more prominent site, you can get high-quality backlinks, lead the audiences to your site, and improve your domain authority.
When you have excellent domain authority, it’s easier for you to compete for broader keywords and drive massive traffic to your site.
Step 3.2: Optimize Your Top Blog Posts
Once your website has got some traction, it’s time to head over to your Google Analytics and Google Search Console to analyze the data.
Pay close attention to the posts that get the most visitors and further optimize them. You also can add more relevant affiliate links to them to drive more affiliate sales.
Step 3.3: Diversifying Your Traffic Sources
SEO is a great way to get traffic, but you can’t put all eggs in one basket. You should diversify the traffic sources just if something bad happens to your site when the algorithm changes.
For instance, you can start building your email list with a lead magnet or use web push notifications to lure your visitors back to your latest content.
Let no one tell you that email marketing is dead. An email list is crucial for every affiliate marketer. If you develop a rapport with your email subscribers, they will not mind purchasing a product from you when the time comes.
Step 3.4: Outsourcing & Automate Everything
It’s great if you are willing to work relentlessly to build your affiliate marketing empire, but your time is limited. You can’t do all things on your own.
As I said, you aren’t only a content creator, you are also a business owner.
Once your business takes off, it’s time for you to delegate routine tasks to seasoned experts in the niche so that you can spend more time growing your business.
It will cost you some labor expenses, but it’s the needed investment in order for you to scale the business to the next level and turn it into a “money machine” that generates income 24/7, 365 days non-stop!
Common Beginners’ Mistakes
1) Black Hat SEO
Inevitably, there will always have people who want to get better rankings by taking advantage of Google’s algorithm loophole with a set of black hat SEO practices.
I can tell you, first hand, that’s not a long term strategy. It only works for a short period of time.
When Google did some algorithm changes, your site is more likely to be penalized by Google. Your website will be in their blacklist and not going to rank anymore. That’s called “Google Slap” by digital marketers.
If you want to build a long-term business, never think about tricking on Google algorithm, ever.
2) Product Review That Tears Other Businesses Down
I have seen a lot of websites that promise their readers to provide them useful affiliate marketing resources, but in the end, it turns out to be super biased reviewing sites that tear other businesses down (i.e. legit MLM, online courses, etc.) in order for them to promote their affiliated online courses.
Frankly, I used to make this same mistake. Even though I get massive traffic from this strategy, but the conversion rate is not promising.
Meanwhile, it doesn’t feel right for me. I feel such a level of guilt not only for the businesses I reviewed but also for the readers because it’s like a bait-and-switch marketing approach. Remember your readers aren’t idiots, they know what you are trying to do. If you seem shady or unauthentic, people will smell it from a mile away.
That’s one of the reasons why I would like to give up my first affiliate website and restart a new one that you are on right now, where I will genuinely share all my experience and knowledge in digital marketing without any offense on other businesses.
Quate by Gary Vaynerchuk can be well applied here:
There are two ways you can build the tallest building in town. You can spend all your time and energy, focusing on making your building the tallest, or you can go around and try to tear everyone else’s building down.Gary Vaynerchuk
Obviously, I will definitely go for the first one.
3) Don’t Treat It Like A Real Business
T. Harv Eker once said:
Where your attention goes, energy flows and results show.T. Harv Eker
If you aren’t serious about your affiliate marketing business, that often means you don’t believe in yourself. As a result, you will never make affiliate marketing works for you.
4) Too Salesy
Let’s face it, nobody likes to be sold to, but everybody likes to buy.
Making money is why we start an affiliate marketing business. But being salesy and providing values while generating sales are literally 2 different things.
If your content is all about your sales pitch without any useful information, it will hurt user experience and lower the conversion rate.
Affiliate Marketing FAQs
1) How Much Time Do I Need To Invest?
If you have this question in mind, I assume you are afraid that you don’t have enough time to build your business. I understand that because everyone has a different schedule and daily commitments.
Fortunately, affiliate marketing is kinda like solopreneurship. It’s not a 9~5 job that required you to clock in and out every day.
This is also not a traditional business where you have that pressure to pay salaries, report business performance to your investors, or pay off your loans on time.
Thus, you are your own boss. You’re the one who decides how much time you’re willing to invest.
For sure, the more time you put into, the quicker you are likely to see results.
Suppose you really don’t have much time, you can outsource the content to the ghostwriters if you don’t mind to spend some labor expenses right from the beginning.
2) How Long Does It Take To Start Making Money In Affiliate Marketing?
Assume you are following the guide I provide to you, you will be mainly using SEO to drive traffic to your site, and it will take 3 to 12 months (or even longer) to start seeing decent results.
But the premise is that you need continually produce/outsourcing content for your site and guest blogging to build up your domain authority for better rankings.
3) Is Affiliate Marketing Sustainable?
The short answer is YES.
Think about it this way.
Affiliate marketing alone is a $7 billion industry. In fact, 81% of eCommerce brands highly reliant on affiliate programs because it involves minimal advertising cost to generate considerable returns.
Do you think that eCommerce giants like Amazon, eBay, Best Buy, or TaoBao will disappear in the future?
From my standpoint, I think they will only get bigger and better every year because of the high demand in the market.
For as long as e-commerce is still here, affiliate marketing will not die because it correlates highly with eCommerce success.
4) How Much Is The Average Affiliate Marketing Income?
The harsh truth is, most affiliate marketers are broke since 99% of them quit before they ever earn a single dollar.
Affiliate marketing income dramatically depends on persistence and the right strategy. Especially in the beginning, when you need to spend countless hours learning the fundamentals and going through the right trials and errors.
I am telling you this, not because I want to discourage you, but I want to put this upfront so that you are ready to do whatever it takes to achieve affiliate marketing success.
When you master the skill, the sky is the limit. The most successful affiliate marketers make six or seven figures a year.
5) Who Are The Top Affiliate Marketing Earners?
The most successful affiliate marketers that I know are included:
- John Chow
- Pat Flynn
- Peng Joon
- Neil Patel
- Darren Rowse
- Rafael Zelik
- Miles Beckler
- Finch Sells
- Russell Brunson
- Jason Stone (a.k.a Millionaire Mentor)
- Adam Enfroy
- Jon Morrow
- Kyle & Carson from Wealthy Affiliate
6) Is Affiliate Marketing An MLM?
Some people might have this misconception, thinking that affiliate marketing is MLM (a.k.a network marketing) in disguise because they are all about promoting vendor’s products for commissions. That’s not true at all!
The main difference between these 2 business models is that affiliate marketing doesn’t rely on recruitment. Its commission structure is happening just between you and the vendor.
When you generate sales and earn a commission, you own all of it. There’s no distribution of commission with other third parties/uplines in affiliate marketing.
7) Is This All About Spamming My Affiliate Links?
The answer is NO.
You need to create helpful content for your audiences to earn their trust before they listen to your advice to buy your recommended products.
Sure, you can spam your links. Just don’t expect people would buy through your links. No matter what business you are in, practicing empathy is a MUST if you want to get good returns.
8) Is It Essential To Set Up A Company To Become An Affiliate Marketer?
No, it is not. I wouldn’t recommend setting up a company right away, as this would cost unnecessary expenses.
You should be focusing on bringing sales first. As your income grows, then you can start to set up your company and scale it.
9) Can I Do Affiliate Marketing Without A Website?
Of course. There are many ways to affiliate marketing, even without a website.
However, as I mentioned earlier, owning a website/blog is better because it’s digital assets that will rise in value.
Moreover, it gives you more credibility because your audience can know you better through your informative content.
10) Is There Any Recommended Affiliate Marketing Training?
Apparently, the information that I can provide to you in a single blog post is very limited.
Suppose you want to hone this high-income skill more in-depth and succeed faster.
In that case, Wealthy Affiliate is my preferred online community to get the needed support and training program in affiliate marketing. I hope this piece of info helps.
And there you have it, a thorough 5100+ words guide that breaks down the fundamentals of starting an affiliate marketing business. This might be the most intense pillar content I have ever written.
Anyway, all these are the tried-and-true strategy. No affiliate marketing wheels were reinvented here.
Here’s a quick recap of what you need to do:
Phase 1 ➜ Laying The Foundation
- Step 1.1: Pick A Profitable Niche That You Know
- Step 1.2: Choosing The Right Affiliate Products
- Step 1.3: Choose A Channel
Phase 2 ➜ Get Your Website Ready For Search Engines
- Step 2.1: Setting Up Google Analytics, Google Search Console & Bing Webmaster Tool
- Step 2.2: Mind Mapping Content Ideas
- Step 2.3: Keyword Research
- Step 2.4: Create An SEO- friendly Content
Phase 3 ➜ Optimize, Automate & Scale
- Step 3.1: Backlink Building
- Step 3.2: Optimize Your Top Blog Posts
- Step 3.3: Diversifying Your Traffic Sources
- Step 3.4: Outsourcing & Automate Everything
Still, it can feel overwhelming to do all the necessary work at first if you a complete newbie.
But trust me, follow the tips included in this article will steer you on the right path. Don’t overthink it, just put in the work and learn by doing.
I believe all the “wisdom dots” will somehow connect in the future, and you will eventually figure out how the entire process works.
As your site grows and generating decent affiliate sales, all the hard work will be worth it!
Are you decide to give affiliate marketing a shot? If not, what’s holding you back from getting started? Let me know in the comments below, and I will be happy to help.